Blog : Couples and Relationships

How do I get my spouse to stop using their smartphone?

How do I get my spouse to stop using their smartphone?

Are our smartphones the new mistress? 

In a number of ways, our brains don’t understand where our body ends and our phones begin. We see them as an extension of our personality, experience, and life. Staying up-to-date on Facebook, posting pictures, and having our businesses more streamlined, makes it difficult to know where we end and the phone begins.

As a result, when a significant other challenges the phone, we feel it’s an attack against a part of us. But the phone is not a part of us. It is a tool and entertainment.

Are the feelings of jealousy and other emotions that come up when a partner has been unfaithful similar to what happens when one partner pays more attention to their phone?

Couples that don’t communicate on a regular basis about technology, boundaries, and limits are setting themselves up for overt and passive conflict. Similar to when email came out, beepers, or other devices, negotiating the use of the phone is now something every couple needs to discuss.

How are iPhones and or technology negatively affecting relationships? Ex. Bringing phones to bed?

Smartphones have a high potential for negatively affecting relationships. For example, phone use before bed disconnects you from your partner, during a time that can be emotionally connecting, this also hurts sleep, which leads to mood changes, and is then perpetuated through on-going stress in the relationship.

What can we do about it?

Effective couples plan on “phone free times.” This could be 10 minutes of focused conversation at the end of the day. It may be watching a TV show as a shared experience and snuggling instead of each being on their phone. The bedroom may be a “phone free zone.”
Also, phone use may go in waves. For example a busy time at work may mean that phone use goes up. Communicating that is important, “Right now things at work are crazy. This week, I’m going to be on my phone more, but you can count on me to be mentally present for dinner and after 8:00.”
Joe intensive Marriage counselor intensiveBio: Joe Sanok, MA, LPC, NCC is the owner of Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City and is a consultant with Practice of the Practice. He has the #1 podcast for private practice ownersThe Practice of the Practice Podcast.

Are you looking for Divorce Counseling?

DIVORCE- Are you looking for a divorce counselor? 

Talking about divorce isn’t easy. It can be messy and heartbreaking, and it can stir up emotions of  anger, resentment, guilt, sadness, amongst many others. Divorce usually eludes to the idea that there is a broken relationship that is unsalvageable. Many couples agree to therapy, hoping to prevent divorce when they start seeing signs of dysfunction, and others decide to utilize therapy during a divorce to help navigate it’s messy waters.  In either circumstance, the individuals have made a conscious choice to improve their mental health in the process and seek alternative answers.

There are many reasons why couples consider divorce.

It’s no joke that marriage can be one of the hardest relationships you will ever have to maintain. There are many things in life that cause thorns in your marriage. Is it poor communication, addiction, infidelity, boredom, life transitions, differences in parenting styles, finances, excessive control? The list can keep going… but I am sure that it is easy for you to identify the biggest thorns in your marriage. This leads us to the big question; Would you rather let the thorns fester, or would you rather pull out those thorns and allow the healing to finally begin?

What does a divorce counseling session look like?

If you haven’t pursued therapy before, you may not know what to expect. In general, the couple will begin by attending an intake session together. Here, both parties will give their own background information, and have a chance to communicate their perceived, core issues. From here, the couple and the therapist will create a plan to work through these issues and navigate, one step at a time. Because each couple is unique, the duration of therapy is going to be individualized, and not necessarily a set length of time.

What can we gain from divorce counseling?

Have you considered how therapy can prevent your potential divorce? The hope is that through therapy, you and your significant other can learn new ways of handling messy emotions. The right therapist will help navigate, and create a safe environment for healthy conflict resolution. Perhaps, a third party will be beneficial for your marriage because an “outside perspective” will help create balance and direction. There is also the benefit of learning new methods of communication and rekindling friendship with each other. Ask yourself, what does your ideal marriage look like? Once you have created that vision within, the next step is getting the courage (and the right therapist) to make it happen!

Does my teen have a digital or internet addiction?

Does my teen have a digital or internet addiction?

Our teens live in a world that is full of screens. It can sometimes be difficult to know what is normal for digital addiction, video game addiction, social media addiction, internet addiction and what is not screen addiction?

Signs of Internet Addiction

The Center for Internet Addiction published the following:

Meeting 5 of the criteria of the Internet Addiction Diagnostic Questionnaire (IADQ) means you are addicted.

  1. Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet (think about previous online activity or anticipate next online session)?
  2. Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
  3. Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use?
  4. Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?
  5. Do you stay online longer than originally intended?
  6. Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?
  7. Have you lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet?
  8. Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)?

Unlike alcohol and drug addiction counseling or custody evaluations, the field of internet addiction is still fairly new.

Teens and Screens What Every Parent Needs to Know

Parents and children fight, this has happened for generations. But these fights have changed over time. CNN reported that the average teen is on a device for 9 hours per day! This can lead to:

  • Failed attempts to control behavior
  • Neglecting friends and family
  • Neglecting sleep to stay online
  • Being dishonest with others
  • Feeling guilty, ashamed, anxious, or depressed as a result of online behavior
  • Weight gain or loss, backaches, headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Withdrawing from other pleasurable activities

Pew Research also found that 68% of teens witness peers “stirring up drama” online and that 94% of parents underestimated the fighting online.

Trends in Digital Addiction

An October 2016 study by Piper Jaffray Group surveyed 140,000 teens and looked at 37 million data points. What they found is really interesting in looking at a shift in our culture:

  • Youtube outpaced cable
  • 58% of homes had Amazon Prime
  • Food and clothing are the only things that teens spend more on than video games
  • 80% of teens use Snapchat monthly

Thus for our kids, that feeling that “Everyone is there” is true. In fact, 61% of teens said they want to go online to see likes and comments from their friends. 36% wanted to see what their friends were doing without them. 21% wanted to make sure that no one was being mean to them online.

What Parents Should Do About Screen Addiction

There are three effective steps that every parent can do.

  1. Get informed about platforms. Understand where your kids are and what they are doing. Read about Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to be able to accurately discuss them. Don’t like and comment on your teen’s activities, it embarrasses them, it’s like giving them a big kiss in front of the school.
  2. Respect social code for teens. Don’t be overly involved with their online activity, but don’t turn a blind eye.
  3. Practice nonjudgemental conversation where you say, “Tell me more about…” Instead of “You should” or “You shouldn’t”

Many parents and teens need a mediator or counselor to help through this process. Tech can be a way to help your child find independence and growth. It can be where they appropriately begin thinking like an adult, but they need you as a guide!

Meet Traverse City Counselor Joe Sanok

digital addiction private practice consultant joe sanok headshot on stairsJoe Sanok is a licensed counselor and the owner of Mental Wellness Counseling, a Traverse City counseling practice. He specializes in helping teens and couples to navigate how to find more peace in their home.

Four Reasons Couples Divorce

Four Reasons Couples Divorce

Have you ever had a ridiculous fight with your partner? I remember one about mayonnaise that was really a fight about budgeting. Or one about dishes that was really about time management and fairness. Or another that was about snow pants, but it was really about parental roles.

What if I told you that 95% of divorces have something in common?

Dr. John Gottman, the world’s leading marriage researcher, has spent 40 years researching couples. He’s researched married, unmarried but committed, same-sex, and about every combination of committed partners. With 95% accuracy, he can predict divorce after only a 15 minute observation.

So what are the four areas? Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling

Criticism in a Relationship

Criticism is when a partner immediately accuses the other of something. The partner says something like, “Why didn’t you do the dishes?” This doesn’t leave room for conversation, rather it is a direct attack. This usually leads to defensiveness.

The antidote for criticism is to use a softer start-up. For example, “I see the dishes aren’t done, was the day busier than you expected?” Using statements that express what you want in the relationship tend to help.

Defensiveness when You’re Attacked

Imagine your partner says, “Why didn’t you do the dishes like you said you would?!” Naturally, most people would react with, “Do you know what I do all day, I did so much more than the dishes!” This ups the level of the conversation and leads to a fight.

Even though my partner may have attacked and criticized you, the best way to diffuse your defensiveness is to take ownership for what is true. For example, “Yup, you’re right, I knew the dishes were a priority for you and I wasn’t able to complete them.”

The Killer of Relationships, Contempt

In Dr. Gottman’s research, he has found that when a dynamic of “contempt” is present, it is one of the strongest predictors of divorce. Contempt is when one person positions themselves above the other, almost like a parent. It might come across as, “You never do anything right, you can’t even do the dishes like I do!” When this happens, the equal respect in the relationship diminishes and couples don’t build long-term intimacy.

The best way to combat contempt is for the person to articulate what they need. For example, “I feel more at ease when our kitchen is clean, can we discuss a plan together on how to achieve this?”

Stonewalling aka Silent Treatment

In couples, each partner stonewalls in different ways. It is usually when one or both people are flooded. Flooding occurs when our pulse is above 100 beats per minute and oxygen can’t get to the brain. As a result, we sometimes stop engaging in the fight, with the purpose of adding less fuel to the fire. When we just get quiet or even seek revenge through silent treatment, it doesn’t create a productive outcome from the conversation.

To combat this, effective couples will learn ways to sooth their emotions. They will take a break that is at least 20 minutes long and seek to relax from the fight. They may go for a walk, do yoga, or read a magazine. Then effective couples calmly work through the issue.

Fighting is normal in relationships, but effective couples that stay together seek to avoid the four areas of criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. They seek to find a productive way to learn from the fight and improve to build a long-term relationship.

Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a couples counselor in Traverse City and the owner of Mental Wellness Counseling. He has completed the Gottman Level 1 training and is accepting new couples that want to strengthen their relationship. 

One Thing Couples Can Do to Improve Their Relationship in 5 Minutes

One Thing Couples Can Do to Improve Their Relationship in 5 Minutes

My wife and I recently got in a fight about pajamas. There weren’t pajamas for my daughter in her drawer. But it wasn’t about pajamas. It was about roles, household duties, and fairness.

Have you ever had the pajama fight? You know it’s ridiculous, but it really matters to you. It’s tapped into something beyond pajamas, it’s what we cover in couples counseling often.

In marriage and long term relationships, there is one skill that will change everything. If you master this skill, you’re more likely to stay married, have long term health, and be happier. Also, you may avoid needing to come to couple counseling as frequently or get more out of your marriage therapy.

Marriage reseracher, Drs. John and Julie Gottman have been studying couples for 40 years. They are able to predict divorce with over 90% accuracy. This is because they have found the exact formula that people fall into to tear apart their relationships. They teach marriage and family therapists how to do this. 

So what’s the skill? Active listening.

What is Active Listening?

Active listening is a skill where your main purpose is to full understand your partner. There’s no judgement, only inquiry. Example questions/statements might be:

“Why is this important to you?”

“Tell me more about that.”

“Is there any more to this that is worrying you or stressing you out?

When you’re listening to your partner, your main goal is for them to know that you fully understand their point of view.

What to Say Next

After your partner gives their point of view, you reflect back what you have heard. For example you might say, “You’ve been really busy with the kids, cleaning the house, and your new job, so you didn’t put pajamas in the drawer, did I capture your perspective?”

After asking if you captured everything, your partner may clarify, change, or adjust what they said. It’s a time for them to work out exactly what their point of view is. Some people are verbal processors so they may need to say it out loud a few times. Others might have to think about it. Maybe they didn’t say it right the first time.

Connect with Their Feelings

Lastly you want to connect with your partner’s feelings. How do you see yourself in their story. An example might be, “I would find it hard to keep up with the household tasks too if I had all that on my plate.”

During this phase, you don’t have to agree with everything your partner said, just find anything that you can relate to. Where do you see yourself in their story? What feelings did they express that you feel also?

There are tons of ways to screw this up. You could interrupt, share your opinion, or put your own agenda into your summary. People don’t usually compromise and take action unless they feel that they have been understood. That is why the single biggest thing you can do in your relationships is to learn to employ active listening, even if it’s about pajamas.

private practice consultant joe sanok headshot on stairsJoseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is the owner and a licensed counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in downtown Traverse City. Mental Wellness Counseling helps angry kids, frustrated parents, and distant couples, to schedule an appointment go to

Confronting Success

Confronting Success

It seems some people are able to find success like a dog sniffing out bacon, whereas success to others is like looking for your lost keys. In one situation, success and goal achievement is just following the scent and in another it is a haphazard and frustrating experience.

When we hear “success” we often think of it in financial terms, making more money or finding a better job. But success is more than that, it’s creating change as a parent to yell less. It is identifying dysfunctions in your relationships and taking steps to successfully become a better person. It’s about identifying change and actually seeing change occur.

People that consistently achieve success do a number of things regularly.

Make a Goal Clear

What would make an impact on your life? When we dream about an “ideal day” or being an “ideal parent” it helps us to break down the core elements of a goal. For example, “I want to be more patient with my kids.” What does that mean? How would you know you have achieved that? You might yell less, have more quality time together, and sleep better at night. These indicators help to identify what you are trying to achieve.

Use Roman Numerals

Remember when you took notes in school? You were taught to use Roman Numerals to break things down. The steps in achieving success involve not just breaking down a goal into elements, but into micro-goals. If you’re hoping to launch a business, drill into each element to have 5-10 minute steps. Make progress when you have short bursts of energy and time.

You’re Not Alone

Often we feel like we’re the first to have specific goals and ideas about success. Many people have done this before. Learn from them. Read their books, listen to their podcasts, watch documentaries about them. There are so many life hacks that people have discovered. Taking some time to research and study others is a common strategy by the most successful people.

Make Time

Goals are achieved when we make time for them. Gary Keller, a co-owner of Keller-Williams, wrote in The One Thing, “You can go one inch in twelve directions or a foot in one direction.” We need to make time for our financial, parenting, marriage, and life goals. Setting aside 15 minutes per day for a year is 91.25 hours you will have worked on your new goal!

The most successful people define their goals, break them down, learn from others, and make time to achieve success. So what happens if you don’t do this? What will you miss out on in the world? But more importantly, what will the world miss out on from you?

Meet Joe

private practice consultant joe sanok headshot on stairsJoseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a licensed counselor and owner of Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He also works with business leaders on mindset and leveling up. His top ranking podcast is at

Anndrea Terry: Inspiring Balance

The Mental Wellness Counseling “Meet the Counselors” series offers a deeper look into each counselor’s background, experiences, motivations, values, and philosophies. In this series, I put counselors on the couch to learn why and how they do what they do.

Survival of the Sickest

As a 21-year-old undergrad, Anndrea Terry’s life was changed forever at a pool hall. When a broken bar stool collapsed under her, Terry crashed face-first into the metal pocket of a pool table. “My top row of teeth were shattered and twisted up into my gums,” she said. “My face was so swollen that you couldn’t see my nose to my cheeks—it was like a wall.” After eight hours of oral surgery, doctors were able to save Terry’s teeth. With the looming threat of infection, however, she received twice-a-week dental examinations, five root canals, and a “laundry list” of antibiotics for one year. During this time, Terry was in “straight-up survival mode.” “All I could think was to eat, take my pills, and clean my stitches,” she said.


Ice creamBasic needs like sleeping and eating became taxing challenges. Since she couldn’t chew solids, Terry swallowed milkshakes, applesauce, jello, or noodles at meal times. “I still felt hungry all the time,” Terry said. “The ability to chew has a psychological aspect. I could dump liquid down my throat all day and still feel starved.” Unfortunately, her heavy diet of milkshakes, ice cream, and junk foods induced digestive issues and a dairy allergy. “My body was in shock all the time. My stomach was constantly upset and I got really sick,” she said. Terry’s dietary battle drew her attention toward proper nutrition.


YogaAdditionally, Terry started practicing yoga, which allowed her to process her emotional and bodily trauma. “When I was in a particular stretch, I would feel a weird sensation in my body, and then all of a sudden I was crying,” she said. “It was all the tension I had bottled up in my body. Yoga was a way to start peeling back those layers of emotion.” Terry’s yoga teacher encouraged students to express their feeling freely, something she desperately needed to do. “That was a really big moment for me,” Terry said. “People would always say ‘don’t worry, you’ll get better,’ but at that point, no one had said “just let it out, whatever needs to come out.’”

and Therapy, oh my!

While continuing yoga and meditation, Terry discovered another emotional outlet in counseling. After undergoing therapy herself, she decided to make a career of it. “My recovery inspired me to pursue counseling because I realized how powerful being able to talk to people was,” Terry said. “In the Western medical world, we generally look at particular areas of the person, but we don’t look at the whole picture. For instance, for weight loss, we prescribe a plan to cut calories and work out, but we don’t necessarily look at our relationship with food.”

Healthful Living 

Anndrea T QuoteJust as her full recovery involved a combination of health factors—nutrition, sleep, exercise, and therapy—Terry wanted to counsel the same way. “I realized I could have approached my healing differently with everything that was encompassed with my accident,” she said. “Being mindful of the things we do in our daily lives all affect how we feel emotionally and mentally.” Terry’s “360-degree” model of wellness is based on the interconnectedness among physical, mental, and emotional health. In sessions, she not only relies on therapeutic techniques like motivational interviewing, but also yoga, meditation, and mindfulness—all while taking into consideration her clients’ diet, sleep, exercise/movement, self care, and lifestyle habits. For clients struggling with anxiety or depression, a few deep breathing exercises can reduce symptoms and “give them back a sense of control over their body.” “Mindfulness is cool that way,” Terry says. “It opens a lot more doors as opposed to necessarily always going into the deep end of the pool. In the long run, I think it gives counseling a better name because people don’t think you’re just laying on a couch for six hours a week.”

“I Live What I Love”

Terry is enthusiastic about expanding her counseling approach through more holistic practices and experiential therapy. She teaches stand up paddle board yoga/meditation in Traverse City and hopes to organize more group counseling sessions in the future, such as women’s self care retreats. With the lessons learned from her accident, Terry aims to equip people with the knowledge and skills of wellness so they can live all-around healthy lives. “The most rewarding thing is seeing people change—being free of something that used to confine them and just watching them blossom into their full potential,” Terry said. “Counseling gave that to me when I was going through my accident, so if I can offer that back in any way, that’s the greatest thing ever.”

Anndrea Traverse City counselor headshot
Anndrea Terry, MA, LPC, NCC, RYT

Click here to learn more about Anndrea or to schedule an appointment.

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Tarah Elhardan: Enhancing Women’s Wellness

The Mental Wellness Counseling “Meet the Counselors” series offers a deeper look into each counselor’s background, experiences, motivations, values, and philosophies. In this series, I put counselors on the couch to learn why and how they do what they do. 

Q: What has been your most impactful work experience? 

A: I worked on a crisis line at Third Level Crisis Center. I was able to develop the unique skill of phone counseling. I didn’t know who the person was and I couldn’t see or interact with them. There was a lot of silence in between and at times, it was very intense. I typically counseled those struggling with suicidal ideation, self harm, and those who were in need of immediate help. It was really impactful, and a great learning experience.

Q: How did you first get interested in your particular field? 

Woman smilingA: I’ve found this passion for women and women’s health. Most of my clients are young women who struggle with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Unfortunately, I’ve found that it is really common for women to struggle with depression and anxiety. Society has different expectations of women, and women need someone to talk to. During one’s teenage years when identities start to form, it is crucial to develop positive self-esteem, self-worth, confidence, and body image. It’s really important for women to develop a healthy mindset and healthy life physically, mentally, and emotionally.

 Q: What is the most challenging aspect of your work? 

A: Not taking the work home at times. When you’re with someone and they’re sharing a hardship, in that personal space with them, it can be hard not to take it home. If you don’t engage in self-care and find healthy ways to cope, it can all build up and start to really affect you. I try to keep a healthy work-life balance, but it’s challenging because I care about my clients and their struggles. Self-care is key. It’s something I’m continuously working on.

Q: Is there anything you wish you had realized about this profession before you started? 

A: How helpful it is to take care of yourself. To work in the mental health field, you have to be able to take care of yourself or burnout is just inevitable. As a new counselor, you know you’re going to hear people’s stories and struggles, but I don’t think you really understand how heavy that can weigh on a person. It can be so easy to take on their pain. Some people are more prone to it than others, but the people who are prone to it are probably are in this field. That’s why we’re in this field, because we care about people and want to help and make a difference.

Q: What is the most important characteristic of a counselor? 

A: I think that having integrity and being genuine are very important. Clients are looking for someone they can trust, someone who they can feel comfortable around, and relate to. If you don’t have good rapport with a client, you’re not going to have a good therapeutic relationship.

Q: What innovative, new ideas have you or would you like to employ in your practice? Tarah E Quote

A: I look at the person holistically. Nutrition is also definitely an interest of mine. I’ve found it helpful in my personal life and also in the lives of the clients I serve. There are so many mental health benefits that nutrition and a healthy diet can offer. Certain foods can greatly affect one’s mood, mental stability, anxiety levels, etc. Also, if one isn’t eating, that’s going to affect one’s mood, too. I have plans to incorporate nutrition into my practice more.

Traverse City counselor Tara
Tarah K. Elhardan, MA, LLPC

Click here to learn more about Tarah or to schedule an appointment.

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Lucy Seefried: Intimate Human Connections

The Mental Wellness Counseling “Meet the Counselors” series offers a deeper look into each counselor’s background, experiences, motivations, values, and philosophies. In this series, I put counselors on the couch to learn why and how they do what they do.

Q: What influenced you to become a counselor?

A: As an undergraduate, I studied abroad in a few different places. I worked with non-profits in the educational and environmental sectors, and eventually found my way to human rights advocacy. I loved doing advocacy work, but it takes a long time for things to change. Part of me realized I needed to find a different way to channel my energy so that I could still help people, but help people in a way that I could actually see change occurring, rather than wait years for something to change. I wanted to have more of a direct impact. I decided to go into counseling because I love working with people one-on-one. I’m fascinated by people’s stories. I’m always inspired and incredibly humbled by people and their experiences, particularly how they get through difficult times.

Q: What techniques have you employed in your practice?

A: When I work with individuals, I like pointing out things they are already doing well and strengths they already have. Often times people come in thinking they’re not doing anything right. Since I’m not the one in the situation, I can listen objectively and see things they’re doing that’s working. I identify strengths that can help them move toward feeling better about themselves.

Q: What is the most rewarding thing about what you do?

Lucy loveA: Being a part of people’s lives and seeing them change and grow. The therapeutic relationship is so intimate. When I was new to counseling, I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, people are just opening up to me. It’s crazy.” Now it’s something that I value so much. To be a part of someone’s life in such an intimate way is so gratifying. It’s a privilege to work with people who have faced adversity, to see them realize their potential, begin to make changes, and feel strengthened. I feel very humbled every time I work with someone.

Q: What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned from your work?

A: Being able to relate emotionally is something I learned while abroad. I was working with people with totally different cultural backgrounds. Even though they faced struggles that I couldn’t even comprehend or imagine, they still experienced similar situations and had similar emotional responses to those situations as me, my family, or my friends have.

The most valuable thing I’ve learned is that everybody has internal challenges that impact them on an individual level. While we don’t all go through similar things, we all have a very similar emotional makeup. The way we experience joy, fear, shame, guilt, and happiness is all the same. We may respond to it differently, carry it differently, or deal with it differently, but we all experience it and can connect through it. This is our shared human experience. There is not a person who I’ve worked with, no matter what their walk of life, who I could not relate to because at the end of the day, we’re all human beings. We are way more alike than we are different.

Lucy Traverse City counseling counselor therapist
Lucy Seefried, MA, LLPC

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Nicole Ball: Empowering Women

The Mental Wellness Counseling “Meet the Counselors” series offers a deeper look into each counselor’s background, experiences, motivations, values, and philosophies. In this series, I put counselors on the couch to learn why and how they do what they do.

Nine Joyless Months

Pregnancy 1

Pregnancy according to Nicole Ball is not always the glowing complexion, framed sonogram photo, flowery baby shower experience that it’s often cracked up to be. “As a society, we expect pregnancy to be this beautiful, joyful experience,” Ball said, “but for some women, pregnancy is the worst time of their lives. For the whole nine months, they’re scared and full of anxiety.”

Meeting pregnant clients in Traverse City who struggle with past or present trauma initially sparked Ball’s interest in pregnancy anxiety. She’s been specializing in it ever since. “From a practice perspective, I feel like pregnancies are really untapped because everybody sees a pregnant woman and assumes she’s so happy,” Ball said. “But you don’t know what that sexual assault she went through at thirteen is doing to the pregnancy. Even for women who have repressed traumas, sometimes pregnancy is when those memories will come back.”

A New Lens

Ball counsels (pregnant) women who have had miscarriages, been subject to sexual assault, domestic violence, or other traumas. Reliving the tragic memories is the biggest challenge for both the client and Ball, albeit a necessary step to healing. “My goal is to feel with the client, not feel for the client,” she said. “That makes a huge difference because clients feel like their story has meaning, whether it’s good or bad.”

For survivors, the path to healing can be arduous. However, through the art of active listening and thoughtful discussion, Ball’s therapeutic approach aims to broaden clients’ perspectives, enabling them to reach new insights about their situation. “We all have a separate lens that we see life through based on our experiences, culture, and how we interact with people,” Ball said. “I’ve learned that not everybody’s lens is the same, and that’s okay. I may see a situation differently than my client, but I can facilitate a conversation in a way that helps them discover new things about themselves and their past. Clients seem to find their own answers through a new perspective.”

Baby Steps to Success

In Ball’s experience, women restore their autonomy when they begin making confident, self decisions and doing things they normally would not do. Even the smallest victories gain positive momentum. “Maybe a woman hasn’t gone to Meijer in five years because her abuser might go there, and now she’s going to Meijer to do her grocery shopping. That’s huge,” Ball said. “We might not see it as a risk, but for her, it was something she was able to conquer. It shows she’s gained some of her power back.”

Ball claims that abusers rob victims of their independence, self-worth, and ultimately power. In the end, whether she is assisting sexual assault/domestic violence support groups, doing one-on-one counseling, or working as a doula, the goal is to help her clients reclaim their lives. “When I work with a woman for a long time, I hope to see her regain that sense of self—feeling like she has control over her life again and isn’t afraid,” she said. “Any time a woman, regardless of her trauma, gains her power back, that’s when I feel most successful.

Nicole trauma abuse domestic violence counselor Traverse City
Nicole Ball, LLMSW

Click here to learn more about Nicole or to schedule an appointment.

Want to schedule an intake? Click here.

Steve Greenman: Fostering Individual Strength

The Mental Wellness Counseling “Meet the Counselors” series offers a deeper look into each counselor’s background, experiences, motivations, values, and philosophies. In this series, I put counselors on the couch to learn why and how they do what they do.

A New Start

The 2008 economic recession catalyzed a life-changing series of events for Steve Greenman. Within eight months, he was forced to close the doors on a business he owned for thirty years; he also lost his home, his marriage, and his father. Along with his two sons, he moved from a roomy house in Traverse City to an apartment with only a handful of rooms. “I remember my oldest son looking around the apartment saying, ‘you know, dad, we had a lot of wasted space at the old place,’” Greenman said. With the support of his sons and a newfound respect for self care, Greenman was able to adapt and grow from all of the sudden changes. “How I’ve been able to get through those circumstances was invaluable. As a counselor, those life experiences have been just as important as my education.”

Years later, memories of his former self became relatable anecdotes to utilize in his counseling practice. “By the time you get to my age, you’ve experienced a lot of different things,” Greenman said. “I probably share with clients more than other therapists. I can give them scenarios that I lived through so they don’t feel isolated, that they’re the only one feeling this way.”

Individual Therapy

With the diversity of clientele that enter his office, the focus of Greenman’s practice is tailoring to each individual. “We’re all wired differently, so my client is the theory,” he said. “Therapists have to be like chameleons. We adapt to each and every person.” To foster a comfortable environment with younger clients, Greenman may donn a T-shirt and shorts. For other clients—like PTSD victims or substance users—adapting may mean trying different therapies such as psychotherapy, cognitive conditioning, or motivational interviewing.

Persistence is Key

However, Greenman says “there are no easy answers” to any type of therapy. His most difficult cases tend to involve working with clients suffering from PTSD. With PTSD and couples counseling, “it can be really difficult because you don’t know if you’re getting anywhere or making it worse.” Making progress requires both Greenman and his clients to persist through the thick of any situation. In other words, “you have to root out the weeds and let the dust settle to be able to patch the new lawn,” Greenman said. In particular, helping clients understand the “underlying currents” to their own behaviors is what encourages change. “Change doesn’t happen from me, it all happens from the client,” he says. Seeing substance users gain sobriety or PTSD victims adopt coping strategies are some of Greenman’s most memorable experiences as a counselor.

“Steve, You’re Fired”

Through attending to each person’s needs, respecting individuality, and helping clients discover strategies for self sustainability, Greenman looks forward to the day that his clients walk out his door and never need to come back. “I tell clients when I first meet them that their goal is to fire me,” he said. “Some clients like a periodic check-in, others fire me after a month. That’s what I want, no matter how long it takes.”

Steve Greenman Traverse City Counselor
Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC

Click here to learn more about Steve or to schedule an appointment.

Want to schedule an intake? Click here.

Give Up on New Year’s Resolutions

Give Up on New Year’s Resolutions

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You want to lose weight, stop smoking, or save more for retirement. Every year we do this and every year, 92% of us fail at New Year’s Resolutions.

A University of Scranton study found that only 8% of people will succeed in their resolutions.

So maybe you should resolve to not make a resolution this year? How would that feel?

Life can continue down the path you’ve been going, or maybe there is a more effective way of switching out the negative for the positive in your life. The problem with resolutions is we make them into a pass-fail exam.

  • I’m going to lose 15 pounds.
  • I’m going to save $1,000.
  • I’m going to stop drinking so much.

What is it about the 8% that succeed and what can we discover about actual life changes beyond resolutions? There are actually only three things that are important to impact your life change.

Focus on Progress in Resolutions

In my experience as a counselor who helps people change every single day, the first step in making a life change is to move away from the “pass-fail” mentality and move into a “progress” mentality. If you eat healthier and gain weight, that’s a success. If you do one push up more than last year, that’s a success. Stop worrying about whether you achieved the goal, and focus on the process towards the goal.

Create Micro-goals in Resolutions

In Dr. Fuhrman’s book “The End of Dieting” he talks about taste bud changes. The concept is that as we give our bodies more nutrients, we naturally want to eat things that are good for us. This process only takes 10-14 days. So something as simple as drinking one green smoothie per day may actually fuel other positive habits with little effort.

Don’t Talk About New Year’s Resolutions

When we announce goals that we are working on, our brains actually receive a rush of endorphins by announcing the goal we want to change. By doing this, it’s the equivalent of giving a child a cookie before they clean their room, rather than after. Is the child more likely to clean the room if they already have the cookie? Of course not! Instead, brag about your successes as they happen, rather than announcing what you plan to do.

Whether you want to be in the 8% that achieves their New Year’s Resolutions or you just want to create a small change, focus on progress, create micro-goals, and don’t talk about so that 2016 will be the most positive year of your life!

Traverse City counselor Joe
Joe Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC | Ambitious Results

Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a licensed counselor and the owner of Mental Wellness Counseling in downtown Traverse City.

On Setting Boundaries

On Setting Boundaries

By: Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC

“No” is a complete sentence.”
Anne Lamott

When I was working at an in-patient recovery center as a therapist, we would discuss boundaries in group. Many of the men in my group were between the ages of 18-30 and had issues relative to their addictive behaviors such as dual diagnoses like depression and/or anxiety.

Many in the groups I chaired shared how they felt like failures and that they were behind in what society deemed appropriate behaviors such as: doing a good job; supporting a family; and having a house with a white picket fence.

They deemed themselves failures which precipitated relapses once they went back to old environment.

The men shared they had kept going to AA meetings and kept vigilant about triggers, cues for potential relapse but put themselves again and again in compromising positions not understanding the concept of proper boundaries for their sobriety.

Why are Boundaries Important?

Each of us experiences reality in terms of:

  • The body – what we look like
  • Thinking – how we give meaning to incoming data
  • Feelings – our emotional response
  • Behavior – what we do or don’t do

Setting boundaries enhances a person’s ability to have a sense of self and to control the impact of reality on the self and others.

Our boundaries allow us to take in what is deemed necessary emotionally, but if the created boundaries  are negative, our perception of ourselves will be enhanced in a negative light.

Individuals experience self-esteem by directing to the self their perception of appearance, their thoughts and responses and what they should or should not do with their lives. Boundaries act as filters to the soul, what we perceive that we are, we become.

How do Boundaries Work?

We learn to set boundaries on two levels:

  • The external system that protects the body and controls distance and touch.
  •  The internal system that acts as a filter or block to protect one’s thinking, feeling and behavior.

External boundaries are violated by actions such as:

  • Touching or standing too close without permission
  • Intruding on a person’s privacy; for instance, walking into a bathroom or bedroom without knocking or getting into another person’s possessions without permission.

Examples of internal boundaries being violated include yelling, screaming, name calling, ridiculing, lying, patronizing, sarcasm, negative control, unrealistic expectations and demanding one’s own way or point of view as the only choice.

In the end, the ability to set boundaries may take several forms: The person who, because of low self-esteem, childhood training or painful experiences of the past, is unable to unwilling set limits and thus has no protection.

Example of Creating Boundaries – Enabling

It may be easier to find a list of don’ts in dealing with chemical dependency boundaries creation, for it is easier to understand why you fail than to know how to succeed. The following list is not inclusive but it makes a good beginning:

  • Don’t allow the dependent person to lie to you and accept it for truth, for in so doing, you encourage this process (enabling). The truth is often painful, but get it.
  • Don’t let the chemically person exploit you or take advantage of you, for in so doing, you become an accomplice (enabler) in the evasion of responsibility.
  • Don’t let the chemically dependent person outsmart you, for this teaches him/her to avoid responsibility and lose respect for you at the same time–enabling.
  • Don’t lose your temper and thereby destroy yourself and any possibility of help.
  • Don’t lecture, moralize, scold, praise, blame, threaten or argue. You may feel better, but the situation will be worse.
  • Don’t accept promises, for this is just a method of postponing pain. In the same way, don’t keep switching agreements. If an agreement is made, stick to it.
  • Don’t allow your anxiety to compel you to do what the chemically dependent person must do for him/herself.
  • Don’t cover up or abort the consequences of the chemical use. This reduces the crisis but perpetuates the illness.
  • If at all possible, seek professional help.
  • Don’t put off facing the reality that chemical dependency is a progressive illness that gets increasingly worse as use of mood altering chemicals continue.

Why Are Good Boundaries Important?

When you have weak boundaries, you compromise who you are. You lose yourself, your freedom, your control and your “territory.”

Because you are the only thing in which you have complete control, healthy boundaries are an essential part of proper self-maintenance.

You may ask, especially if the addict or alcoholic in your life is your child, how can I be a good partner, friend or relative to this person if I have such limits? IYou may feel like it’s putting a wall up and feel guilty or as if you are betraying this person in his/her hour of need.

Yes, it is excruciating to see someone you love struggle with addiction, but, like they say on the airplane, you need to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. Good boundaries are critical. You’ll find that you are actually of little or no help to others without them.


As we learned in group, a basic coping skill in interpersonal relationships is the ability to set and maintain boundaries for our interaction with others and with the world as we experience it.

Many allow themselves to be imposed upon and even mistreated because of poor self-image, fear of conflict and uncertainty about their right to exercise control over their lives. Boundaries can be walls of protection or they can become barriers to fulfillment.

“There was a wall. It did not look important. It was built of uncut rocks roughly mortared. An adult could look right over it and even a child could climb it. Where it crossed the roadway, instead of having a gate, it degenerated into mere geometry, a line, an idea of boundary. But the idea was real. It was important. For seven generations there had been nothing in the world more important than that wall. Like all walls it was ambiguous, two-faced. What was inside it and what was outside it depended upon which side of it you were on.”

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed

Hearts and fence photo available from Shutterstock


Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He specializes in helping families dealing with complex family situations, addictions, and transitions. Steve is also helping clients through the Intensive Recover Program, which helps with recovery treatment, alcohol treatment, and other addictions treatment. Contact Steve at 231-714-0282 Ext. 701

Steve Greenman Traverse City Counselor
Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC | Thoughtful Experience


Conquering Codependency

Conquering Codependency

By: Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC

I remember the ice hitting the glass.

After working all day and sitting down in the living room, I would hear the noise of the ice from ice maker entering the glass. The hair on the back of my neck stood straight up. My mind raced to what may or may not happen. Would I have to cancel the evening plans? How were the boys? I wonder if anyone noticed we have been missing at meetings? When was the last time my then-wife did not get into an argument, prompting the boys to ask if everything was all right?

I had known for some time that I needed help dealing with my wife’s drinking. I had been trying to control it and always labeled it under the heading “what was best for the kids.” What I was forgetting in all this was the toll the drinking was having on me personally. I was depressed, feeling alone, and just plain tired of it all.

Life changed dramatically when my wife took a second-shift job. Night brought a quietness and peace I had not felt for some time. I had previously tried to control the use of alcohol by screaming, pleading and trying to ignore the triggers. None of it worked. Once my wife went to evening shift, the drinking took place in the early morning hours, when the rest of us were sleeping. I realized the difference was not allowing the drinking to dominate my waking hours. I needed to take this one step further. After many years of threatening, I finally attended an Al-anon meeting.

Powerless against it

Strength, not weakness. Allowing the controlling aspect of alcohol to dissipate was beginning to slowly enter my mind as I listened at my first Al-anon meeting. Powerless? You mean I did not have the duty to control, enable and cover up any more? I did not have to carry the burden of the disease? I could think about myself?

I could begin to see what alcohol was doing to me. I was dealing with the same urges as the drinker, but didn’t have the release of alcohol to numb my pain. I was in many ways the dry drunk in the family. My reaction to the situation was affecting my 8- and 14-year-old sons more than the actual drinking. I thought I was protecting my boys, but actually I was adding fuel to the fire by creating the environment to drink.

Those at the meeting shared their stories of their first time in attendance. They spoke of being scared; of being too good for this silly program; and that they were not the one with the problem. Each person expressed that control was not an option. The act of controlling was destroying more than the drinking. I was not leading a healthy lifestyle. For once it was all right to think about myself and review my own feelings.

Codependent Relationship

In a codependent relationship, feelings are often painful. You may have cut off the following feelings:

  • Anger. Are you having one crisis after another? Do you feel you’re doing all the work in the relationship? Are you angry you’re covering up for your partner?
  • Isolation. Do you stay home because you’re not sure whom you can trust? Do you feel you have to hide your feelings because things will never change?
  • Guilt. Do you feel no matter how hard you try it’s never good enough? Do you think that if you were a better partner things would be better?
  • Fear. Do you fear confronting your partner because they may abandon you? Do you fear physical or sexual abuse? Do you fear the loss of your home and security?
  • Embarrassment. Do you avoid bringing people into your home because your partner’s drinking is unpredictable? Do you avoid social gatherings where drinking may occur?
  • Despair. Do you feel helpless and trapped at times? Do you feel it will never change so why bother to confront? Do you spend most of your energy worrying about his or her drinking?

The more that was shared, the more it felt I was beginning to break up that wall in my heart. It was all right to take care of myself; it was all right to focus on me for a change.

How to take care of yourself

It is natural to want to protect the people you care about. But in a codependent relationship, how do you begin to take care of yourself?

  • Recognize you have a problem.
  • Start to focus on your needs.
  • Begin to educate yourself on codependency.
  • Start setting limits.
  • Start trusting and get supports.
  • Understand recovery and the process for everyone.

I felt a bit lighter when I left the meeting. I had shared my thoughts with others and I was able to speak freely about control. I was beginning to make a crack in the wall. I was actually telling someone else that we had a pink elephant in the room that in itself was a huge step forward. I was beginning to understand to cover up pain and shame in the family dysfunction. I needed to learn to respond to an outer reality instead of my own inner reality.

Steve Greenman Traverse City Counselor

Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He specializes in helping families dealing with complex family situations, addictions, and transitions. Steve is also helping clients through the Intensive Recover Program, which helps with recovery treatment, alcohol treatment, and other addictions treatment. Contact Steve at 231-714-0282 Ext. 701


Wedding Planning Stress Minimization

Wedding Planning Stress Minimization

Photo Provided by Tela Chhe on flickr

A wedding is an important life experience that takes a lot of time and effort to prepare for.

With all of the preparation comes stress that can lead to various consequences. Some partners lose their connection and question their proposal or acceptance of a proposal. Others become overwhelmed with constant decision making. Family, friends, wedding planners, and even partners can become additional sources of stress. Understanding that both partners have different perspectives on the celebration is essential to making sure preparations go smoothly.

Here are some ways to make sure stress does not affect the connection you have with your partner:

Remind each other why you wanted to get married in the first place.

Take the time to tell your partner what you love about them. Couples often overlook this, leading to one partner feeling under-appreciated.

 Make mutual decisions.

In the beginning stages of a relationship there are decisions that can be made independently. There are also certain things that do not necessarily need to be shared with the other partner. This will change when the decision is made to enter into a marriage. Making decisions together from the early stages of wedding planning can prepare a couple for challenges that may lie ahead.

Mutually choose the caterer, colors, theme, motif, sponsors, officiating person, entourage, gowns, tuxes, guests, reception hall, and everything else. Men often prefer to have the ladies make decisions while they foot the bill. This strategy can often lead to disagreements where men are disappointed, especially because they paid for the thing they did not like. This source of stress and arguments can be minimized by making decisions together. It will also give partners a better idea of how they cope with decision making and show each individual’s point of view on an issue. Always include partners in decision making, never rush them into making a decision, and encourage participation.

 Have a fire/water strategy.

When couples inevitably lose patience and argue, it is easy for them to start attacking each other. In cases such as these, avoid attacks as much as possible. If one partner is steaming, angry, and playing the role of fire, the other partner should not attack them. Instead, they should take time to cool off, avoid flaring up, and calm the angry partner. Simply getting them to a level where they can sensibly talk about the issue will do wonders. Do not avoid the argument, but slightly delay the discussion so both partners can rationally take part in it.

 Take time to unwind.

Staying connected during the planning process is not just about making decisions, handling difficult situations, or reminding each other of the your love connection. Both of you should have fun while preparing for the wedding. Take time to withdraw from preparations and chill out. Plan a short vacation, play games, or participate in activities you both love. What matters is that you both enjoy the planning and the down time.


Ultimately, a marriage is a mutual decision between two people to spend the rest of their lives together. A wedding should be planned with a similar approach in mind. A couple should not feel forced to show their relationship off to the world. It is not just a special occasion that you should prepare for, but the first step both of you are taking in order to solidify your bond and take your relationship to the next level.




Emotional Connectivity Checklist: 10 Things Couples Should Do Before their Wedding

Emotional Connectivity Checklist: 10 Things Couples Should Do Before their Wedding

Photo Provided by slightly-less-random on flickr

Let’s face it, some couples go through a phase where they lose interest in each other. For some, this leads to one partner giving up hope and walking away from the relationship. For others, the wedding just seems like the next step in the relationship. It is essential for couples to connect with each other and rekindle the relationship.

Here are some things you should do to connect emotionally before your wedding:

1. Converse

There may come a time when you no longer wish to have long conversations with your partner. It could be because you feel you have nothing to talk about or because you are tired of discussing certain things. Find the energy to start a conversation with them. Ask your partner about their day or work so you do not just talk about wedding preparation.

2. Plan a Date Night

Dating shouldn’t stop because you are engaged. In fact, it is an integral part of maintaining excitement in a relationship. Choose a day of the week to go out. In order to keep this from becoming routine, take turns choosing ideas for the date.

3. Sweet Nothings

The sweetest acts from loved ones are usually the most simple. “Sweet Nothings,” or simple and random acts of sweetness are a fun way to remind your partner of how much you love them. Surprise your partner at work with a nice lunch or prepare coffee in the morning and stick a Post-It with a cute message on the mug.

4. Reminisce

This is a great way to reconnect emotionally with your partner. Try to visit the place where the two of you met and remember the details of what happened. Open up about the experience. This will help you remember exactly how far the two of you have come and why you love your partner.

5. Romance

Some people want romance while others find it corny or awkward. While it is important to remember that not all people are comfortable with their romantic side, there is one thing that can freely show you and your partner how much you love each other. When making love, be careful that it doesn’t get boring and feel free to explore new things together.

6. Activities

There are plenty of activities that couples can do together. Games, paint ball, and bowling are just a few of many options available to you. If your partner’s friends take part in certain activities, join in once in a while. You can see how they interact with their friends in addition to getting to know them more before the wedding.

7. Argue the Right Way

During wedding preparations, ideas will clash and you will argue. This is perfectly find, but be sure you are open-minded about it and avoid getting carried away from the stress. Be rational, go for a walk, and come back when you are ready to talk.

8. Be Considerate

Be considerate of your partner’s feelings. Listen to what they say and take it into consideration.

9. Laugh Together

Have a good laugh together. Whether this comes from a movie, comedy show, or just discussion, laughter helps bring people closer together.

10. Vacation

Preparing for a wedding can be stressful. Take the time to relax and unwind. Both of you should choose a place where you can chill out and take a day or two off. Your budget may be tight around this time, but this vacation does not need to be grand. What matters is that both of you get some quality time off.

What Every Future Mother-In-Law Should Read

What Every Future Mother-In-Law Should Read

Photo Provided by April Killingsworth on flickr

You are a very important part of your son or daughter’s wedding. Your opinion on certain parts of the wedding will be taken into consideration, but you have to remember that this is not your wedding. There is a reason that the stereotypical relationship between the bride or groom and their mother-in-law exists and it is because mother-in-law’s tend to meddle in their child’s affairs. Although it is natural to want to take matters into your own hands, you have to learn to mellow down.

Here are some reasons that mother-in-laws get a little too involved and ways to correct them:


When your son or daughter has finally decided to tie the knot, you cannot help getting excited. Even before plans are in place for their wedding, you may want to tell all of your friends about it. You may also be coming up with a list of people that you want to invite to the ceremony.

Of course you are excited, but here’s the problem:

Issues: You do not know the couple’s wedding plans. They may prefer a simple ceremony for close family and friends. They may have a tight budget. Telling others about the wedding before the couple does may cause some hardships. The couple may feel the need to invite more people than they can afford or, if the person is not invited at all, they may be offended.

Solution: Try to calm down a bit and think before telling anyone the news. Ask the couple about what they are planning on doing and, if people ask about invitations, tell them that those matters are being handled by the couple. If possible, ask the couple for a guest list and avoid inviting friends or family members that do not appear on the list.


It is natural for mother-in-laws to want the wedding to be perfect. You may have plans on how the wedding and preparations will go. You may want to suggest a hairdresser, location, place of worship, caterer, and florist.


Issues: By controlling all the wedding details, the couple may feel belittled. They will feel that you are monopolizing the event and that they do not have a part in their own wedding. They may also blindly accept your decisions out of respect, but that is not the ideal situation to be in.


Solution: It is very important to understand your role in the wedding. Do not act as a sole decision maker. Try to become a mentor or guide and provide assistance when the couple needs it. You should not feel bad about having a small part in preparing the wedding. In fact, you should be proud because it will only show that your son or daughter can accomplish it on their own. The couple’s capability to make decisions will be put to a test in theses early stages. Additionally, this may also mean that they do not want to put additional stress on you. The truth is, there will be a time when they will ask you for support. You will probably be a person they will feel they can talk to when the preparation process is overwhelming them. If this happens, be there for the couple and support them.


Wedding preparations can be stressful and may cause anxiety. As a mother-in-law, your sole concern should be the overall welfare of the couple. Try not to interfere with the whole affair and let them enjoy going through the process of planning their upcoming wedding.

3 Reasons Not to Hook Up With Anyone at a Wedding

3 Reasons Not to Hook Up With Anyone at a Wedding

There are lots of events that allow you to find someone to hook up with, but you should NOT choose to do so at a wedding reception. A wedding is an event with lots of people from two different families and groups of friends. Yes, this is an event where singles meet up to have fun and possibly find their soul mates, but while this is a fun and easy way to meet new people, hooking up with someone at the event can be a bad idea.

Here are three reasons to avoid hooking up at the reception:

1. It isn’t safe

Although you know the couple, you cannot say that you know all of their family and friends. Hooking up with any of them is not a safe practice, no matter how many precautions you may take. It’s also not safe for the relationships with your friends or family. The long-term consequences can be tremendous.

2. It isn’t respectable behavior

There is a question of decency here since this is not your event. You, as a guest and visitor, shouldn’t be looking to benefit yourself. If there is a possibility you’ll get caught, both you and your partner will find it embarrassing. Avoid ruining the party and your reputation by hooking up. Be decent and do not rush into anything you’ll regret. Instead, take the time to get to know that person and invite him or her for coffee some other time.

3. It can affect you psychologically

The wedding reception is a time to celebrate the couple. This is their party and you were invited for that reason. Being picked up at a reception and hooking up can make women appear as if they have low self-esteem or confidence, and that they feel unattractive. Some men target these ladies because they are easy prey. They can easily be manipulated into thinking they are wanted when, in fact, they were chosen because they require little effort and can easily be disposed of. Women should think about how they will feel the morning after before drinking a lot or agreeing to hook up.

Hooking up can also have implications for men. Men can either feel great or very poorly about their ability to lure women in. Some of these actions, however, are the actions of insecure individuals who are trying to prove themselves to others.

Unfortunately, hook ups have seemed to replace the concept of dating. The wedding reception can be a great way to meet people, but it shouldn’t be used to hook up. If you ultimately have a bad experience hooking up, you will associate it with the wedding and risk meeting the person again because of mutual acquaintances.




Surviving Holiday Stress

Surviving Holiday Stress

By Tarah Elhardan, MA, LLPC

  1. Act in the Moment– Do one thing at a time. During the holidays there is so much to get done and it can feel very overwhelming. By putting all of your energy into one task it is more likely that you will complete it. Tackling the tasks one by one is most efficient and least stressful.
  2. Anticipate Challenges and Prepare- Is there one relative that you don’t get along with? Is there one activity that you always avoid? You are not alone. Everyone has something or someone that they do not look forward to. By identifying and becoming aware of your challenges, you can learn how to best prepare for them. Having an action plan will allow you to feel ready so that you can enjoy the holidays with those you care about the most.
  3. Say YES to Yourself- You may be feeling pulled in every direction. With so much to do and so little time, it is important to remember to schedule some “me” time. Make you your first priority so that you can help others and get ready for the holidays.
  4. Reconnect with Old and Establish New Traditions- Organize an event that you used to engage in during your childhood or make a new tradition to start with your family. Research has shown that experiences increase happiness more than material items.
  5. Engage Purposefully- Find a purpose in everything that you are doing. Having a purpose makes everything feel meaningful and worthwhile. Do and say things with a purpose. It will bring more satisfaction during the what can be, stressful holiday season.
  6. Sleep- Without sleep, there is a life filled with stress, irritability and a lack of energy. Rest up so that you can fully enjoy this holiday season.
  7. Breathe- From the beginning of November to the day after the New Year, it is go-go-go. Focus on your breath and remember to breathe. Basic breathing exercises and yoga can be very helpful to lessen the stress of the holiday season.
  8. Find Meaning- What is the holiday season all about? Is it about reconnecting with old friends and loved ones? Is it about donating your time and giving to those in need? Where you find meaning, you will find life this holiday season.
  9. Act Your Way to a New Feeling- It is so easy to say that you will start eating healthier or, take up running when you feel better, but who knows when that time will come? It is actually more likely that you will start feeling the way you want to when you engage in those activities.
  10. Remember that it is Only Temporary- The holidays come once a year and if it is something that your truly dread, remember that it will soon be over. You will get through it.

Remember that it is Only Temporary- The holidays come once a year and if it is something that your truly dread, remember that it will soon be over. You will get through it.Survivng Holiday Stress

Traverse City counselorTarah Elhardan, MA, LLPC is a counselor at the Traverse City counseling practice, Mental Wellness Counseling. She is especially interested in holistic approaches to counseling, anxiety, and helping women to overcome self esteem issues.


Video Game Addiction

Video Game Addiction

We were visiting our recently married friends, I asked the wife, “What didn’t you expect in marriage?”

She said, “I thought the wow would end.”

“That’s great that it has continued,” thinking it was a weird way of saying that there was still a spark or flame in the marriage.

“No, I thought the World of Warcraft would end, he stays up all night playing that stupid game.”

Video game addiction is not just for adolescent boys. The Washington Post recently reported that there are more adult woman gamers than teen boy players in the world. “Internet Gaming Disorder” even made its way into the DSM-5, the diagnosis guidebook for psychiatrists and other helping professionals. Video game addiction has the potential to grow into one of the most challenging addictions to treat.

Video Games are Made to Addict

Video games are created in a way to engage and suck someone in. They have tapped top neuroscientists and psychological experts to create games that give quick incentives. By having a rapid reward system, players feel a sense of accomplishment and self worth.

When is it too much?

Each person’s tolerance for video games is different. The big question I ask, when treating video game addiction, is “How is it hurting your life?” As a newlywed are you staying up all night…playing video games? Is homework being turned in late? Are you still getting 7-8 hours of sleep? Is your job failing?

When it starts to hurt a major life domain (relationships, school, or work), it’s usually time to get help.

Long Term Consequences

Severe video game addiction can lead to needing rapid reward systems. The world isn’t like that, we don’t get high score points every time we drop our kids off at school on time. Also, brain development happens most in the 0-3 years and then again in the teen years. Once that time is gone, the brain develops at a much slower rate.

Video games are made to be addicting and too much can effect brain development and life domains. Maybe it is time to put some actual “WOW!” back into life and leave the World of Warcraft behind.

Video Game Addiction Assessment

This self-assessment is meant to be an awareness tool. For a full assessment, please contact a counselor with Mental Wellness Counseling. This assessment is adapted from the Game Addiction Self Assessment.

Answer “Yes” or “No” to the following:

  • Have you tried but failed to control your personal gaming time?
  • Have you ever sensed an exaggerated sense of well-being when playing video games?
  • Do you find yourself constantly needing to play more video games?
  • Do you ever neglect family or friends because of how much time you spend gaming?
  • Do you find yourself feeling restless, irritable and discontented when you’re not gaming?
  • Do you ever find yourself lying to family members or friends about how much time you spend playing video games?
  • Do you experience school or job performance issues due to how much time you play video games (e.g. your grades go down at school, or you don’t get a good work review from your boss)?
  • Do you ever feel bad, guilty or depressed about how much time you spend gaming?
  • Have you changed your sleep patterns due to gaming?
  • Do you get headaches, red eyes, sore fingers, or wrist pains from playing video games?
  • Have you withdrawn from real-life hobbies and social interactions due to gaming?
  • Do you spend more than 2 hours in a day playing video games?
  • Do you frequently stay up late to play video games and as a result you are tired the next morning?
  • Do you neglect your hygiene because of excessive video gaming?
  • When your computer or video game machine is not working do you feel irritable or anxious if you can’t play a particular game?
  • Do you become angry or defensive when someone asks you about your gaming habits?
  • Within the last year have you played video games for more than 6 hours nonstop?
  • Do you use gaming to escape from real life problems, anxiety or depression?

Answer Key

How many “yes” answers did you have?

Average Gamer 0-3

Your gaming has an impact on your life, seems enjoyable, but also has the potential to get out of hand if not kept in check.

At-Risk Gamer 4-6

The level of gaming that you currently experience is likely having a negative impact on several areas of your life. You may not understand how your work or job performance has the potential to suffer. Your relationships may be in rough shape. Your body may begin to experience longer term affects of gaming including frequent headaches, back issues, loss of sleep, increase in anxiety, and increase in depression. A few sessions with a professional may help you get back on track.

Extremely High Risk Gamer 7+

Based on these scores, you are fairly addicted to gaming. Working with a professional will most likely help you to create boundaries, increase positive social interaction, and stop long-term effects. It is important to get help as soon as possible from a counselor, life coach, or other professional that focuses on changing addictive habits.

Do you need help? Does someone you love need help? Contact us about getting help for video game addiction.


video game addiction women teens
Families need help, please share to raise awareness!
video game self assessment
Please share so that others can get help!

featured image by Cory Schmitz




Traverse City Marriage Counseling

Traverse City Marriage Counseling

5 Tips for Distant Couples

Traverse City Marriage Counseling | Tip #1

Focus on the big goal of marriage: Why did you get married? Probably to spend your life with someone, have a level of intimacy, and grow with them. If you keep focused on the big goal of marriage, feeling that intimacy, then you’ll have an easier time letting go of the small things. When we do marriage counseling with couples in our Traverse City office, we often find that they aren’t focusing on the big goal of marriage. The book ScreamFree Marriage: Calming Down, Growing Up, and Getting Closer is a great resource to help focus on the big goals of marriage.

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Microbes, Your Gut, and Your Brain | How new research is changing the face of anxiety

Microbes, Your Gut, and Your Brain | How new research is changing the face of anxiety

That phrase, “I just felt it in my gut,” might be true after all.

Researchers are now finding that what we eat actually has a profound biological effect on our mood. It’s because we’re feeding a bunch of microbe in our body. They react to what we eat. In fact, they out number our cells 10:1. In fact, they may be more in control of us that we ever thought possible!

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A rap is worth a thousand words

A rap is worth a thousand words

Parents rap about maintaining their household by videosonlytube

I just saw this video. I don’t have much insight regarding counseling or therapeutic issues to write about. More that I just love how this couple seems to work together. It is so easy to get caught up in life’s tasks, but when a couple fires on all cylinders it feels so good to watch and for the couple it is great.

John Gottman, a marriage researcher talks about a couple’s tendency to begin to live parallel lives. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work he talks about how over time, a couple can drift away from one another. Their parallel lives become more like roommates, than as partners.

Dr. Gottman discusses how couples need to have a 5:1 ratio of positive interactions to negative. I would take that a step further. Couples also need to focus on daily interactions that cause strife and grow their cognizance of how their mood and personality can change the tone of the environment.

Further, marriage research discusses how a couple needs to look at their issues and see if the are resolvable or if they are positions that the person is entrenched. If it is not an issue that can be resolved, such as religion or sometimes politics, a couple can agree to disagree or figure out a way to call a “time out.” When couples begin this process, they can find less stress that effects their daily life.

So maybe I had a comment or two, but the video is pretty awesome, isn’t it?


counselor Traverse City counseling family






Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a licensed therapist and the owner of Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He is learning techniques to help his clients and his own marriage. Also, he likes funny rap videos like this one.

Traverse City counseling counselor therapist family




The Cancer Effect

The Cancer Effect

cancer counseling thyroid

In July I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Fairly soon I will be having a bunch of additional tests and have a treatment plan. I will soon have my thyroid removed, have a scar on my neck, and be on medicine for the rest of my life. I feel too young for all of this.

On Sunday I was swinging at the beach with my daughter and wife. My wife was pushing my daughter and the sun was bouncing off both of their faces. It was better than any photo. I couldn’t stop thinking about how the two of them deserve to have a husband/dad around. How life in the simplicity is wonderful.

So often in my life, I have thought about my next steps and how to improve, evaluate, and enhance my life. I strategize  and am goal-oriented. I often have a view that if there are improvements to be made, that life will be better when those improvements occur. Maybe it has been in regards to improving the furniture in my house or renovating a room.

When that is done, then I will be happier.

When I start seeing more clients in my private practice, then I will be happier.

When my websites are running more, then I will be happier.

My formula has been that as progress occurs, happiness will develop too. In many ways this is true and reiterated in our lives. When we complete college, we usually get a better job and have more economic freedom. We can choose our career direction more accurately and potentially develop careers that are fulfilling. When I fight with my wife and we work it out, we usually fight less. Fixing often does lead to more happiness.

However, holding out for that happiness or believing that future me will be happier because of those things is a farce. That belief, that is perpetuated by media, friends, and our own internal voices is a falsity. If we are not seeking balance and emotional wellness now, we will not have an easier time tomorrow, next week, or next year. Instead, it will be harder because we then have more time living in the less fulfilled world we have created.

I have been given a gift through telling people about my cancer. When I tell someone those words for the first time, they will hug me, cry, give me encouraging words, tell me that they are praying for me, or sending me positive vibes.

Really they are saying, “Joe, you matter to me. The world would not be the same without you.”

In doing this, I am on the receiving end of experiencing something magnificent, knowing that I matter to people.

How often do we tell people that they matter? It can be a “Wellness Discipline” to build our own health. When we notice that others matter and that they are important to us, it builds that relationship, while also creating a thankful heart. The more that we experiences a feeling of thankfulness in the now, the harder it is for the other mindset to push its way in. We can’t have those mutually exclusive feelings of “I am so thankful for what I have right now” and “I will be thankful and happy when X happens.”

So today, may you grow in your thankfulness and tell people that they matter to you and that the world would be different without them. Tell them and tell yourself that life right now is good and wonderful and full of moments of simplicity with the sun bouncing off people’s faces swinging on the beach.


counselor Traverse City counseling familyJoseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a counselor and owner of Mental Wellness Counseling. He is trying his darndest to approach thyroid cancer with an attitude of thankfulness, even though he feels like it really sucks.

Mental Wellness: Opposite-sex friends

Mental Wellness: Opposite-sex friends

sex opposite gender friends counseling Traverse City counseling

Originally featured in the Record Eagle July 14, 2012. Available at:

I have seen many a friendship and marriage fail because of opposite gender friends. What happens when you have a great opposite gender friend and you get married? What about friends that you make after marriage that are opposite of your gender?

A marriage is built on trust, love, and the ability to grow together over time.

At the core of this issue are healthy communication, openness, and realizing that you made a lifelong commitment to your spouse.

Each couple has to decide their own levels of comfort, but here are a few discussion points that seem to help.

More time together in groups

Time together in groups, whether as a group of three or larger, helps the friend and the spouse get to know one another. As well, it sends a message that the primary relationship is the marriage. Within these types of settings the friendship does shift, but it also sets a boundary of intimacy with the opposite gender friend, spouse, and to oneself.

Be open about alone time

When I have meetings with opposite gender professionals, I let my wife know about it. If a friend of hers saw me out with another woman and then talked to her, it may raise unnecessary internal or external questions for my wife. Seeking to avoid even the appearance of questions can build trust. Even though my intentions are professional, within a marriage couples are often combating their own internal dialog as well as the actual discussion that occurs. The same is true of opposite gender friends. Alone time should be discussed and agreed upon.

Be careful of depth

When someone is struggling in their marriage, they often discuss those issues with someone. Sometimes lamenting and complaining about a relationship is a way to verbally sort out thoughts.

However, when this is with an opposite gender friend, it can complicate the relationship.

The friend wants to support their friend, while also needing to respect boundaries that have been established.

As well, intimacy with that supportive person can lead to an emotional connection that distances spouses from one another.

Other’s intentions within a relationship cover the map of possibilities. That is why it is important for spouses to discuss their levels of comfort.

The biggest errors occur when friends unintentionally or intentionally start to take on roles that are primarily the spouse’s.

counselor Traverse City counseling familyJoseph R. Sanok is a licensed counselor and owns Mental Wellness Counseling. He works with family issues and enjoys innovative projects such as family therapy on a sailboat.




Photo used with Creative Commons thanks to jessi.bryan

Friends and Crisis: Dos and Don’ts

You never really appreciate a life of normality until crisis hits. Our family has been through a number of things lately: a death, a major medical issue, and close friends having their own crisis. It is amazing how it seems that high profile events bring out people’s true social skills.

I learned through experience what not to say when someone is in crisis. It was several years ago. I heard that a friend of mine’s parents had got divorced. I was close to my friend, but not to his parents. During a large festival in our town, I ran into the mom and said, “I’m so sorry to hear about you and _______.” It seemed to be the right thing to say. She broke down crying in the middle of the festival.

I felt terrible, I didn’t know how to leave, and I regretted saying anything. After that I was fairly gun-shy. When I heard that people had a miscarriage, death, or sickness, I didn’t know what to say. So I just watched from a distance. Now that I am going through my own experiences, I feel that I have an understanding of what has worked and not worked for me.



Make or bring food. It allows the family to focus on one another, rather than shopping, cooking, and cleaning.

Try and make something they can freeze or bring it frozen. If others are bringing food they can pull it out when the time works for them.

If you can, use things you don’t need back like Tupperware, something disposable, or a pan you don’t care about. Tell them, “Don’t worry about getting the pan back to me.”


Don’t expect to hang out with the family long.

Don’t just show up, call and ask if there is a convenient time.



Empathize with the family. Our friends that have said, “That must be hell” “I can’t imagine going through that” and “When will the universe stop shi**ing on the Sanok’s?” have been some of the most helpful comments. It makes us feel less crazy, like our feelings are normal.

Let the family or person do the talking. Saying, “If you don’t feel like talking about it, that’s ok, but how are you doing?” This is helpful because it is nice to be given permission to blow someone off and stay quiet, yet invited to talk.


Don’t offer suggestions unless you are asked. If people are dealing with medical issues, they probably are consulting with the doctors. If they are going through a death, their closest friends will probably know what/when to suggest therapy. In general, suggestions make people feel like you want to solve their problems and make them move through their grief, rather than be with them.



Expect that your relationship will be different for a while. They may see you more or less. They may want to sit at home and drink beer. Who knows how they will react? They may not want to talk. Realize that people handle crisis very differently and the way they react can differ too. The best thing for you to do is to carry the relationship for the both of you during this time.


Don’t get offended when they focus on something other than your relationship. If you do get offended, don’t show it. Months later if it is still bothering you, you can talk with that person. People don’t need to think about the dynamics of your relationship as well as their crisis.

Don’t worry about spending too much or too little time with them. Ask them if it would be helpful to come over. Most people will tell you what works if you ask in a direct way.

Don’t say, “Call us if you need anything.” Say something more specific like, “Would it be helpful if we had you over for dinner? We’d love to have you, but you can totally say ‘no’.” Sometimes what people need is awkward to ask for like a gas card. Rather than ask, “What do you need?” say something like, “Here’s a gas card/meal/hug if it would help.” By giving the person an out and being specific, it helps to give them the power and control, when life seems out of control.

Depending on which side of the crisis you are (going through it or supporting through it) everyone should realize that you are lucky to have one another. As someone going through life issues, I am so thankful for people saying and doing something, even if they fumble through it. Despite the missteps some have taken, we have realized that it is all done out of love and care for us, which is absolutely wonderful to have in our life.

I would much rather have someone awkwardly try and console me, than to remain quiet out of fear…and then go through a crisis alone. Even if you don’t do all the “dos” or you accidentally do some of the “don’ts” it is ok. Just do your best.

Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a counselor, therapist, psychologist, and overall helper of people in Traverse City, MI. He has professional experience working with Community Mental Health, residential facilities, foster care, and private practice. As well, he is the author of the book “Practice of the Practice: Basics for Launching Your Private Practice” due to be released in June 2012. He is a frequent speaker and writer locally in Traverse City, Michigan, and nationally.


Money, Couples, and Mayo


It all started when we were shopping for mayonnaise. I mean, we didn’t go to the store just for mayo, it’s not like we have an all mayo diet, but it is now known as the “Mayo Incident.” I would say that it started years before that incident, but it was the catalyst.

We had been married a month. I was determined to live frugal so that we could make ends meet. My wife knew that I was frugal and wanted to establish that we could have fun in life. I saw it as an opportunity to focus on living poor, so as to be rich later. She saw it as a quality of life issue. We both entrenched into our positions. I wanted the generic mayo that was fifty cents cheaper, she wanted to “bring out the best.”

I “won”, in that we got the off brand. She then decided that she would only eat sandwiches with mustard. I was stuck eating crappy mayo. Finally, after two months, I caved, threw it out, and we have had Hellmann’s ever since.

When I step back from the Mayo Incident, I see patterns that we have both sought to overcome. She has recognized that she did not make financially sound decisions in the past, whereas I realized that I have missed out enjoying the fruits of hard work. I don’t know exactly how we each arrived at those unique positions, but somehow, somewhere, we did.

Our first year of marriage was rough; it was not the bliss we imagined. We had to struggle through many other areas we had entrenched ourselves. What helped us was finding a common goal to work toward that was bigger than either of our own personal agendas. When we focused on where we were going as a couple, it made more sense to step back from our entrenchment.

I think this is also true in work and friendships. So often, I see that I am distracted by the present situation, that I don’t look at the broader goal. For example, I just started learning about ways to expand my counseling practice. My thought was, “If I could someday make money in a passive way, then I could spend more time with my family and not work as hard.”

That’s a good thought, but I found that instead of playing with my cute 11-month daughter, I was on Twitter, Facebook, building a website, and listening to podcasts on passive income. I had lost sight of the goal. I was giving up family time to have more potential family time.

Now I have shifted to trying to only reply to emails/Twitter/Facebook when my daughter is asleep and after my wife and I have had time together.

I think that I’ll always struggle with the balance of new, exciting projects and family time. But it is helpful to see what is happening, step back from my current project and look at the real goal. In that way, I hope to avoid another Mayo Incident and work toward my true direction I am seeking.

Joseph R. Sanok is the owner of where he helps angry kids, frustrated parents, and distant couples. He also helps private practice clinicians be more awesome through his blog, where he discusses marketing, running a business, and setting up a website.

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Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a counselor, therapist, psychologist, and overall helper of people in Traverse City, MI. He has professional experience working with Community Mental Health, residential facilities, foster care, and private practice. As well, he is the author of the book “Practice of the Practice: Basics for Launching Your Private Practice” due to be released in June 2012. He is a frequent speaker and writer locally in Traverse City, Michigan, and nationally.